An exhibition of famous paintings by Caravaggio was held at Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinal in March, 2010 – and had all the requisite ingredients of a blockbuster art exhibition.

On the 400th anniversary of the death of “the painter of shadowy light”, this art exhibition features only those Caravaggio paintings indisputably his.  Art paintings created by the Caravaggio “school”, or baroque paintings of disputed attribution, are not here, leaving a rare opportunity for pure immersion in Caravaggio paintings.  Astonishingly, some of the most famous paintings in the world are on loan from their art museums.

With patronage from the President of the Italian Republic, this exhibition assembles both well-known and infrequently viewed Caravaggio paintings.  Among the more famous paintings are The Musicians (from the Metropolitan Museum), Basket of Fruit (from Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan), Judith Beheading Holofernes (Palazzo Barberini in Rome), and The Conversion of St. Paul (Cerasi Chapel, Rome).

Rather than being exhibited chronologically, the Caravaggio paintings are hung to foster direct comparison among recurrent themes and subjects. For instance, Boy with a Basket of Fruit (above left) is juxtaposed with Bacchus (right). Also, multiple versions of a famous painting are juxtaposed — like the three versions of St. John the Baptist, loaned from the Galleria Corsini, Nelson-Atkins Museum, and Capitoline Museums. Similarly, two versions of the Supper of Emmaus are shown for comparison: the one from the National Gallery in London (the version forged by Han van Meegeren, whose infamous exploits are richly detailed by Edward Dolnick in The Forger’s Spell), and one from the Pinacoteca di Brera.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was born to a prestigious family from Caravaggio, Italy in 1571, a date firmly established only in 2007 by discovery of his baptism certificate.  Despite the brevity of his life – he died at 39 – Caravaggio left innumerable contributions to art history, including artistic references to his legal entanglements. He had been sentenced to death for murder;  shortly thereafter, he portrayed himself as the decapitated Goliath in one of his most famous paintings, David with the Head of Goliath (right).

What virtually guarantees blockbuster status for the exhibition is the rarity with which some of these Caravaggio paintings leave their art museums. These include seldom seen masterpiece paintings like

  • Deposition from the Vatican Museums,
  • Annunciation from the Museum of Nancy,
  • the Crowning of Thorns from Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, and
  • Lute Player from the Hermitage (below)- it’s on loan only until mid-May, a month before this exhibition ends on June 13.

Explore more Caravaggio paintings!